What Paul Can Teach the Christian Counselor

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Christian counselors can learn much from reflecting on the New Testament epistles. For centuries, wise counselors have used the New Testament in their counseling. But, they have often emphasized the commands and not the themes. This makes sense when you think about it. Counselors want to give practical solutions to real problems. Thus, keeping things simple is better. Parishioners in pain are not in the best place to think about complex thematic motifs. That said, this doesn’t mean that counselors shouldn’t. We can gain much by reflecting on some of the themes presented in these writings.

One of the biggest problems flows from selection. How do we decide which writings? How do we decide what to include? I contend that the best approach is to study each letter in a straightforward manner. Then, allow the themes to emerge in an organic fashion as you read and reflect. The following insights came from my study of Ephesians for a PhD class that I took a couple years ago. This study led me to explore Romans 8 as well. I didn’t set out to discover these themes. I didn’t set out to perform a complete exegesis of Paul. I set out to deepen my understanding of God. These counseling insights are the fruit of that labor. It is my pleasure to share it with you.

Understand

Wise counselors understand that all humans struggle with self-deception. This is a consequence of the Fall. Even believers are not immune from this problem. Paul implies this in two places in Ephesians:

having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you… (Eph 1:18).

Why do they need the eyes of their hearts enlightened? They need them enlightened because, for some reason, they cannot see as they should. He illuminates this further in Ephesians 4:17-18:

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.

Here, Paul compares the believing Ephesians with the disillusioned Gentiles. What does this mean for us as counselors? It means that we must understand that all people, Christians included, have blind spots. They are not seeing everything that they need to see. God wants to use us to help them with these deficiencies.

Pray

Prayer is central for both counselors and counselees. Wise counselors know that psychological healing comes from God. As such, they intercede for their counselees. Paul reminds us of this truth. He prays for God to help the Ephesians see His graciousness (Eph 1:18). He also desires that believers call out to God in prayer as a child calls out to his father (see Rom 8:15). A prayerless counselor is a powerless counselor. The same truth holds for those under our care.

Search

Another key theme in counseling concerns suffering. How do we help our counselees suffer well? Paul reminds us that we will trade our present suffering for future glory (Rom 8:16-17). As such, we must guide our counselees in a glory hunt. We must search for where God is working in the midst of our counselee’s miseries. As Schaeffer said, “there is a God who is there.” And our task is to help our counselees find Him.

Reconsider

Besides being glory hunters, Paul also wants us to see the value of our quarry. This glory – God’s glory – far outshines anything we experience now (Rom 8:18-30). Paul wants his readers to reconsider their perspective. We must reinterpret our hardships in the context of this glory. When this happens, we learn that we can withstand anything. The payoff is too great. We can make it. This new perspective brings hope to those in darkness. As counselors, we must help our people see things in light of this glorious truth.

Invite

Inexperienced counselors tend to be advice dispensers. Paul goes a different way. Instead of telling his readers everything they need to know, he asks good questions. Look at these inquiries:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribuluation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword (Rom 8:31-35).

Notice that Paul invites his reader to think about things. He wants his recipients to make the connections for themselves. He is not telling them what to do or think here. Instead, he is helping them reason through all he has said. Good counselors will do the same thing. They will invite their counselees to make connections for themselves. Skilled preachers end many sentences with exclamation points. In contrast, good counselors often conclude their statements with a question mark.

Remind

In the end, Christian counselors are at their best when they point their counselees to Christ. People search for two things. They want meaning and they want relationship. By pointing to Christ, counselors give their counselees both things. We must remind our counselees that:

…in all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:37-39).

It is within this context of a loving communion with Christ that we find meaning and relationship. Good counselors will foster this communion at every opportunity.

Join the Conversation

We love our counselees by understanding, praying for, searching, reconsidering, inviting, and reminding them. What other New Testament themes have helped you in your work with your Christian clients?